Dennis Wright's Blog

Harajuku

Posted in Far East Cruise 2007, Japan, Tokyo, Travel by Dennis Wright on May 18, 2008

The Shinkansen took us to Shinagawa station. Shinagawa is a district in Southern Tokyo and almost a city in its own right. The area surrounding the sprawling station is home to a massive modern complex of hotels, shopping centres and offices. We stayed at the Strings Hotel, occupying the upper section of a huge tower block (Shinagawa East One Tower) just a couple of minutes’ walk from the station.

We weren’t too sure what to do with our limited time in Tokyo but Alex had told us we had to visit the district of Harajuku, although he didn’t exactly explain why. It was though bound to be something to do with young people’s culture or fashion or he wouldn’t have come across it.

We guessed he wanted us to do some shopping for him. So off to Harajuku we went. I worked out that Alex was interested in Takeshita Dori, the famous Goth fashion street, but we had some trouble finding it at first and found ourselves on Omote-Sando, a wide rather non-Goth shopping street. Lots of Western designer brands.

japan tokyo harajuku omote-sando

japan tokyo harajuku omote-sando

We liked the Goth kittens advertising h.Anarchyism for Plus, clearly a very popular brand in Japan.
japan tokyo harajuku anarchyism for plus

Some of the shops were nice but nothing remarkably different from what you mind find in a major European city. While there though we did at least take the time to buy Alex a genuine Japanese Pikachu.

Eventually we managed to find our way to the famed Takeshita Dori, looking like a latter date Goth Carnaby Street, and duly bought Alex some fashionable gear.

japan tokyo harajuku takeshita dori

japan tokyo harajuku takeshita dori

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KYOtototoKYO

Posted in Far East Cruise 2007, General, Japan, Kyoto, Tokyo, Travel by Dennis Wright on April 18, 2008

We spent our last evening in Kyoto wandering the characterful Ponto-Cho area and alongside the Kamogawa river. No shortage of enticing bars and restaurants, but extreme shortage of menus in English. Well, we could still ingest the atmosphere. And we did buy some ice cream and sat by the river to enjoy it.

Next morning it was taxi back to Kyoto station to pick up the Shinkansen bullet train to Tokyo.

No slouch this one. The fastest Shinkansen, the Nozomi.

It still takes around 3 hours. I had hoped to catch a glimpse of Mt Fuji along the way but somehow managed to miss it. Had I been paying attention at the right time, it might have looked like this. Or this. I guess it depends which Shinkansen line you’re on.

The train was fairly empty. I did like the way the guards on the train bowed on entering each carriage. On reaching the far end they would turn to face back into the carriage, bow again and then turn back to the door to exit. There is a brief example about 10 seconds into this clip. Formality and ritual is very important to the Japanese, or at least it has been and we still see the legacy.

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Let us spray

Posted in Far East Cruise 2007, Japan, Kyoto, Travel by Dennis Wright on April 13, 2008

Our trip to the Far East took in extremes of lavatorial experience, from China’s stinking holes in the ground to Japan’s hi-techiest loos.

Our hotel in Kyoto, the Hyatt Regency, gave us ample opportunity to sample the latter. The room itself was modern, smart and clean as you might imagine.

Kyoto hotel toilet control

But the control panel on the wall by the loo reveals more about the hi-techery at ones fingertips.

Kyoto hotel toilet control

The toilet itself, manufactured by Toto, features a spray device just below the rim at the back. At the touch of a button it sprays you intimately for deeply personal cleanliness with a variety of options for spray force and pattern.

There is a sensor to ensure the toilet is occupied before enabling the spray function, which makes perfect sense, but Naomi and I were curious to see the spray mechanism in operation and fooled the sensor by putting a hand in front of it. Pressing a button on the panel resulted in the emergence of a miniature canon, its sliding motion reminiscent of the Alien’s ominously dripping jaws, followed by the release of a thin powerful jet which, in the absence of any human anatomical structures to offer a target, left a small but very damp patch on the wall. Woops. Oh, well. It dried soon enough.

If you want one of these, Toto electronic loos are available outside Japan, but they are not cheap.

We had been worried about loo trips in Japan because the traditional design is the squat toilet, but western sit-down loos are gradually taking over. They do love their electronics though. In one restaurant we came across a loo that has a button for generating a flushing noise even when you are not flushing. I’m sure there is a really good reason for this but I’m not sure I’ve thought of one yet.

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Kiyomizu-dera

Posted in Far East Cruise 2007, Japan, Kyoto, Travel by Dennis Wright on January 31, 2008

Kiyomizu-dera is one of the oldest temples in Kyoto. It is also at the top of a steep hill, accessible only by narrow alleys, something we hadn’t appreciated when we asked a taxi driver to take us there. He of course took us as close as he could get, which was Gojo-dori, not far from the entrance to the Otani Mausoleum. He waved in the general direction we were supposed go. He meant we should take the lane up the hill but being clueless we wandered into the Mausoleum imagining it might be the famous Kiyomizu-dera.

The place was awash with visitors and hordes of buddhist monks in dark robes. No signs or leaflets in English. No obvious person to ask. There was a counter with three queues; I joined the middle one hoping the person behind the counter spoke some English. I never found out because, in the meantime, Naomi had alighted upon an information sheet in English which identified our whereabouts as the Otani Honbyo, mausoleum to Shinran Shonin (the founder of Shin Buddhism) and thousands of other dead buddhists. This explained all the scurrying about by thousands of not yet dead buddhists.

We came to the realisation the temple we sought was up the hill, but as we had missed the conventional thoroughfare we found ourselves climbing a narrow lane skirting a hillside graveyard. This was the Toribeyama graveyard.

japan kyoto toribeyama graveyard

There was a small group around one of the graves, engaged in what might have been the buddhist equivalent of an unveiling.  Not pictured – I thought that would be disrespectful.

In contrast to the hubbub of humanity at Nijo Castle, we were quite alone as we climbed the steep lane.   We really kidded ourselves we’d beaten the crowds and found a secluded spot. That is until we gained the top of the hill and met up with all the sensible tourists who’d come up by the right road. Kiyomizu-dera was as crowded as any other must-see sight in Kyoto, if not more so.

A side view of the gateway to the temple.

japan kyoto kiyomizu-dera gate

The main hall of the temple has a veranda or “stage” overlooking the hill.

japan kyoto kiyomizu-dera stage

As explained here by Asia Travel:

“The Main Hall at Kiyomizu has a huge veranda with 139 support beams underneath it. The Japanese language has an expression: “to jump off the stage at Kiyomizu.” The nearest English equivalent is “to take the plunge.” Tradition in Old Japan held that if you jumped from the terrace and lived, a wish you had would be granted. The practice is now illegal, but during the Edo Era (1603 to 1867) some 234 people made the 40 foot leap and about 200 of them lived. The main hall is dedicated to the goddess of mercy.”

japan kyoto kiyomizu-dera stage

It might have been fun to eat in the traditional way at this restaurant near the temple but there really was nothing there we could eat. Dining in Japan was a great antidote to the pounds we put on while on the cruise.

japan kyoto kiyomizu-dera

Within the Kiyomizu area, up some steps, is the Jishu shrine to the god of love. It is rather cheesy, with lots of good luck charms to buy at tin-pot stalls.

No doubt the deity in question will have looked favourably upon the entreaties of these young ladies in traditional dress visiting the Okage-Myojin shrine, in the Jishu shrine area.

japan kyoto kiyomizu-dera jishu shrine okage-myojin

We found the correct route back down the hill, via Kiyomizu-zaka, with shops and restaurants on both sides. This is where we bought Jonathan’s kimono dressing gown. There was also a shop with an automatic cookie making machine, which reminded me of the automated donut machine at the Blackpool pleasure beach.

japan kyoto kiyomizu-zaka

japan kyoto kiyomizu-zaka

Ninja Castle

Posted in Far East Cruise 2007, Japan, Kyoto, Travel by Dennis Wright on January 17, 2008

Next up in an action-packed day was Nijo Castle – or Ninja Castle as Naomi and I called it, but then we would, wouldn’t we? Nijo Castle was the home of the Tokugawa Shogunate from 1626. The complex covers a massive walled off area near the centre of Kyoto and contains a moat and expansive gardens.

This is Ninomaru Palace:

Nijo Castle Kyoto Japan

Nijo Castle Kyoto Japan

Nijo Castle Kyoto Japan

Nijo Castle Kyoto Japan

Nijo Castle Kyoto Japan

Kinkakuji: The Golden Pavilion

Posted in Far East Cruise 2007, Japan, Kyoto, Travel by Dennis Wright on January 13, 2008

Next morning we set about some more serious must-seeing, starting with the Golden Pavilion, Kinkakuji. As we stepped out of the hotel entrance to claim our taxi the doorman asked where we wanted to go. I said we wanted to go to Kinkakuji. “Ah, the Golden Pavilion. Not Ginkakuji, the Silver Pavilion?” I hadn’t appreciated there were two sights with similar names. I could understand why he double-checked.

It was quite a long taxi ride towards the north western part of town. When we got there the place was a massed throng of tourists, nearly all Japanese. Apparently we had come in Golden Week which is when Japanese get time off and go to visit all the temples.

You cannot go inside Kinkakuji, just look at it and the surrounding lake. Although the original, a noble’s home, dates back to the 14th century, it looks pristine because it was the victim of arson in 1950 and rebuilt in 1955.

Japan Kinkakuji Kyoto

There is a Chinese Phoenix on the top.

Japan Kinkakuji Kyoto

Japan Kinkakuji Kyoto

Japan Kinkakuji Kyoto

Japan Kinkakuji Kyoto

Kodaiji Temple

Posted in Far East Cruise 2007, Japan, Kyoto, Travel, Video by Dennis Wright on December 12, 2007

We did then find the Kodaiji Buddhist Temple. The site is quite large and boasts some extensive gardens as well as the various buildings, such as the Ihoan (teahouse). The teahouse has its own picture on Wikipedia. I think mine’s better composed, but then I would.

Japan Kyoto Kodaiji

More pictures of the temple:

Japan Kyoto Kodaiji

Japan Kyoto Kodaiji

The gardens include an unusual “bamboo forest”:

Japan Kyoto Kodaiji

We were there till closing time in late afternoon then made for the exit.

Japan Kyoto Kodaiji

There is a large buddha in the complex but we couldn’t get to it because that section was then closed. All I could do was snap the top half over the fence. There is a picture of the whole buddha here (taken by another visitor 4 days later).

Japan Kyoto Kodaiji

A Geiko outside the temple complex was kind enough to give her permission to let us photograph her.

japan kyoto kodaiji

In the evening we caught a show at the Gion Corner theatre. It is strictly for tourists, but offers up bite sized demonstrations of classic Japanese entertainments, neatly packaged up into a one hour show.

There is a demonstration of the famous tea ceremony. Far too fussy for my liking, not my cup of tea at all. The Gagaku court music was unlistenable. The Geishas playing the koto was interesting, more for the instruments themselves than the music. The koto looks like a log that has been cut in half and then strung. The Geishas sit on the floor to play it.

The section I found the most interesting and enjoyable was the bunraku. It’s like a cross between the Black Theatre of Prague and Julie Taymor’s staging of the Lion King. It’s puppet theatre where the puppets are large (although not quite lifesize) and the puppeteers are fully visible on stage. Some puppets need three or four puppeteers to work them. The piece we saw was an excerpt from the play where Oshichi climbs the fire tower, as mentioned in the Wikipedia link above. The way the Oshichi puppet is made to move in a lifelike way is utterly fascinating.

Actually, I found some video (someone else’s) on youTube (where else?) of the bunraku show at Gion Corner, featuring the Oshichi puppet:

And a bit more for luck – Oshichi’s getting quite agitated about her boyfriend in this one:

Kyoto: the Yasaka Shrine

Posted in Far East Cruise 2007, Japan, Kyoto, Travel by Dennis Wright on November 29, 2007

 

From the Umeda Sky Building we took a taxi back to Shin-Osaka station, retrieved our luggage from the “check room” and headed off to the part of the station dedicated to the Tokaido Shinkansen, the bullet train.

We followed the colour-coded displays to the right platform and boarded our Kodama Shinkansen for the relatively short journey to Kyoto. Once there we found there was a courtesy taxi service to our hotel, the Hyatt Regency. After checking in we decided to get straight into some serious shrine-visiting, starting with the Yasaka Shinto temple in the Gion district of Kyoto.

Yasaka Kyoto

Yasaka Kyoto

We found our way through the surrounding park to the back-streets of Gion, looking for the Kodaiji Buddhist temple. We came across a courtyard with a couple of shops in it, including an ice cream counter. It was a sweltering hot day and there were little Japanese kids running around licking the green tea flavoured ice cream cornets. The ice cream seller was doing a roaring trade. Naomi held my cornet as well as hers so I could take this picture.

Kyoto green tea ice cream

The courtyard contained a drum (Taiko) which I assume has some religious significance because, as we sat on a bench enjoying our ice cream, a monk entered and proceeded to clatter the drum fairly ferociously for a few minutes before departing just as mysteriously. Maybe a call to prayer?

Kyoto buddhist monk drum

Naomi bought a lace hankie and we headed off, still in search of the elusive Kodaiji temple. The geisha girls were out in force, either in the back of rickshaws or on foot, in the latter case usually in the company of a Geisha Minder. Geisha girls in the Gion area prefer to be known as geiko (woman of art) rather than geisha (artist).

Kyoto geishas

Kyoto geishas

Umeda Sky Building

Posted in Far East Cruise 2007, Japan, Osaka, Travel by Dennis Wright on October 24, 2007

 

Our cruise came to an end at Osaka. We were sad to be leaving the Statendam, but we still had a few days in Japan to round off our holiday. Our immediate priority was sorting out transport to Kyoto (we had a hotel booked there for that night and the night after) but now we were hampered by our two hulking great blue suitcases and a smaller suitcase. How quickly you forget how convenient it is to be living on a floating hotel as you explore the world, but now we were back to having a different hotel at each location.

We took a taxi ride to Shin-Osaka, the vast railway station from where we would take the Tokaido Shinkansen bullet train to Kyoto. For a Thursdsay morning the city seemed almost deserted. Compared to Beijing gridlock, the traffic was surprisingly light. It dawned on us that the cars in Japan drive on the left, like in England. Should we have known that? I had never heard it mentioned.

The taxi driver was very courteous, gave us a pack of tissues each. All part of the service, well it was a hot day. There were pretty lace antimacassars over the seats. Shin-Osaka was heaving. We found our way to the machines to buy our Shinkansen tickets. There are three “speeds” to choose from. The expressest Shinkansen is the Nozomi, then the Hikari, but we booked on the slower Kodama train, departing lunchtime.

This left us enough time for a little sightseeing in Osaka, but only if we could get rid of the bags for a bit. Nowhere, but nowhere could I find the left luggage department. No English signs I could make sense of, no helpful pictures. Naomi fastened on one sign – “check room”. Could that be it? Maybe an Americanism? Anyway, we followed the signs and it was indeed the left luggage department.

The one attraction I had wanted to visit in Osaka, even before leaving Britain, was the Umeda Sky Building. This is Japan’s answer to the Grande Arche at La Defense in Paris, although very different in style. Still, it is in the nature of two tall buildings joined by a spanning structure, like a lid, at the top, and lots of external glassy lifts. This is a model of it, on display inside the “bridge” at the top.

Umeda Sky Building Osaka

See the blue, red and yellow sculptures at the bottom? They are just as bright in real life:

Umeda Sky Building Osaka

Looking up at the bridge from ground level:

Umeda Sky Building Osaka

There is an external lift that goes part way up, then you take an escalator in the sky.

Umeda Sky Building Osaka

Osaka skyline seen from the outside viewing gallery at the top:

Umeda Sky Building Osaka

Umeda Sky Building Osaka

Will the real Venice please stand up!

Posted in Far East Cruise 2007, Japan, Travel by Dennis Wright on September 23, 2007

After Nagasaki we had a day at sea including some cruising between Japanese islands. It was typically hazy (or polluted?) but warm and sunny, so many passengers were out on deck enjoying the view.

Japan islands bridge

I did wonder at one point if the captain had messed up his navigation. Could we really be off the Venetian coast? Well it is a passable facsimile of the Campanile in St Mark’s Square. St Mark’s Basilica alongside is less convincing.

Japan islands Venice

For comparison here’s a flash-forward to the real thing, taken when Naomi and I returned to Venice in June after a twenty-five year absence.

Venice

As my camera sadly lacks GPS I can’t tell exactly where the Japanese mock-Venice is. If anyone knows what it’s in aid of please leave a comment.

Back to Japan’s waterways …

Japan islands

Japan islands

Japan islands

Tall ship

Posted in Far East Cruise 2007, Japan, Nagasaki, Travel by Dennis Wright on September 23, 2007

When we returned to the Statendam we spotted a tall ship moored nearby. Later on it set sail and I took this photo. It was a long way away and this picture is heavily cropped, which is why it’s a bit grainy.

Nagasaki Tall Ship

Spectacles and Temples

Posted in Far East Cruise 2007, Japan, Nagasaki, Travel by Dennis Wright on September 11, 2007

Any must-seeing activity in Nagasaki must include the famous Meganebashi, or “spectacles bridge“. It is a double-arched bridge over the Nakajima river which can look like a pair of spectacles due to the reflection of the arches in the water.

Unfortunately the light wasn’t good enough to produce the effect properly when we were there.

nagasaki spectacles bridge meganebashi

We did spot this interesting stone in the wall on one side of the river. Clearly a labour of love.

nagasaki spectacles bridge meganebashi

Not far from the bridge is the famous Tera-machi-dori (“temple town street”) famous for its shrines. From there we made a short detour to see Sofuku-ji, a Chinese temple dating from 1629.

nagasaki sofuku-ji

nagasaki sofuku-ji

nagasaki sofuku-ji

We noticed this space-saver car park near the temple.

nagasaki

We managed a bit of shopping in Nagasaki’s main shopping district before returning to the ship. Naomi had been smitten by a purse she saw in a shop in the Hamano-machi arcade. Kept going back to look at it but reckoned it was too pricey, even though she loved it and her old purse was falling to bits. While she was window-shopping elsewhere I went back to the shop and bought it. She found it in her heart to forgive me.

Nagasaki: Glover Garden

Posted in Far East Cruise 2007, Japan, Nagasaki, Travel by Dennis Wright on August 9, 2007

japan flag It’s somehow fitting that on 9 August 2007, 62nd anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb which devastated Nagasaki, I’m blogging about my visit to the city. It does though bring it home how far behind I am with this blog. I started this series of cruise-related posts so the kids could follow us on our holiday, but I’m still writing it even though we were in Nagasaki on Tuesday 1st May. This has become an “I’ve started so I’ll finish” job. At least there will be a record for posterity, made while the trip is still fresh (or freshish) in my mind.

After the atomic bomb museum we returned by tram to Oura-kaigan-dori station close to where the Statendam was docked, then took another tram for the short journey to Glover Garden.

nagasaki statendam

nagasaki tram ourakaigandori

Glover Garden is named for Thomas Blake Glover, a Scottish industrialist who came to the city as a young man to seek out his fortune when Japan opened its borders to foreign traders in 1859, ending a long period of self-imposed isolation. The garden features the western style homes from the period, including Glover House.

The garden is on Minamiyamate hill overlooking the harbour, with panoramic views of the city.

nagasaki glover garden

nagasaki glover garden

nagasaki glover garden

Nagasaki Ground Zero

Posted in Far East Cruise 2007, Japan, Nagasaki, Travel by Dennis Wright on August 2, 2007

japan It was inevitable that the first thing we’d do on arriving in Nagasaki would be to take a tram to the area where the atomic bomb dropped in 1945.

There is a park there, and a monument which marks the hypocentre – the spot directly below where the bomb exploded, at 11:02 on 9 August.

There is a statue to the women victims, who accounted for 70% of the dead.

nagasaki japan

We visited the atomic bomb museum but weren’t allowed to take pictures. There were a number of bomb-damaged clocks on display all stopped at 2 minutes past eleven.

Before visiting the museum I didn’t really have a clear picture of the Japanese perspective on the bombing and it’s aftermath, but I can now sum it up as:

“Using an atomic bomb is a terrible and evil thing. We have suffered a terrible fate that should never have been inflicted on anybody. War is a terrible thing. We do not seek retribution, we seek an end to war so that no-one should ever have to suffer this again”.

This is understandable because the impact of the bomb, on the ground, was clearly a horrific and terrifying event that shattered them and shocked them, and they have continued to suffer the effects for decades.

However, their closeness to the direct effects of the bombing means that they have been denied the outsider’s perspective – a preparedness to consider the possibility that the bombing might have prevented a worse calamity. Whether such a viewpoint is reasonable or not, it seems to have been closed to the Japanese to the extent that their Defence Minister Fumio Kyuma was forced to resign last month for suggesting that the bomb was an “inevitable way to end the war”.

Next to the bomb museum is a Peace Memorial building containing the names of all the people who died.

japan nagasaki

There is also a Peace Park which contains many statues or other works of art presented to Nagasaki by various nations to express their sympathy and sorrow.

japan nagasaki

japan nagasaki

japan nagasaki

Pusan’s pastel patchwork and punch-up

Posted in Far East Cruise 2007, South Korea, Travel by Dennis Wright on July 25, 2007

South Korea Flag It is no reflection on Busan that the most memorable and eventful part of our visit was the coach journey back to the ship, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

After Jagalchi fish market we went up the hill to Yongdusan (Dragon Head Hill) Park.

On the way up to the park we stopped at a cafe where we had some unusual tea-like stuff. I connected to a free wifi, which is easy to do in Busan, and was able to send some emails. If I’d thought to pre-install mobile Skype I could have used my handset as a phone for free, but then it would have been the middle of the night in the UK.

What we certainly couldn’t do is make a conventional mobile phone call in South Korea. I really hadn’t known. When you have a quad band phone and it has been fine everywhere including China you don’t suddenly expect it to not work in Korea. It turns out that Korea and Japan have a telephone system which is unique unto themselves. No western phone will work there.

Once at the park we took the lift to the top of the Busan Tower. Looking down, the city is a patchwork quilt of pastel colours.

south korea busan

south korea busan

We could see the psychedelic red bridge our coach had crossed on the way from the ship, which was docked at Yeongdo-gu Island.

south korea busan

“Yeongdo” is apparently the shortened form of “Jul Young do” meaning the “island that produces quality horse breeds”, not that we saw any horses, thoroughbred or otherwise.

I’d heard that Americans were very unpopular in South Korea and that as Britons we might be mistaken for Americans and given a hard time. We couldn’t speak much to the Koreans as they had hardly any English, but they seemed friendly enough. One smiling gentleman came up to us in the park because he wanted to practice his English.

In front of the tower in Yongdusan Park is a statue of Korea’s 16th Century naval hero, Admiral Yi, who fought off 50 invading Japanese ships with only 5 tortoise-shaped boats. Maybe his tortoise boats made the Japanese ships turn turtle. Just a thought.

south korea busan admiral yi

And there is of course the People’s Bell, in its own pavilion.

south korea busan

Taking the 4-stage escalator from the park, down past what looked like a playground but was an exercise park for adults, we came back down to street level and the shops.

We had to be back at the Phoenix hotel in time to catch the coach back to the ship, which was sailing shortly after lunchtime. There were lots of fellow passengers trying to get on the same coach. It was already standing room only when we squeezed on, but the next coach, the last one, would have been a half hour wait.

Naomi sat at the very front, in the “guide’s” seat. I was standing right in front of the huge windscreen, with another 25 or so passengers standing behind me down the length of the bus. I kept thinking this was dangerous as I had nothing to hold onto. As the bus set off and started to lurch around I felt very exposed. If there was an emergency stop I would go straight through the glass, so I crouched to give myself a chance of grabbing the dashboard.

Halfway into the journey a taxi driver cut in front of the coach and our driver had to brake. He did it as gently as he could get away with, but there was still a human avalanche inside the coach. I grabbed the dashboard, Naomi grabbed me, I had the weight of untold bodies on my back, but somehow we all regained our balance and no-one was hurt.

But the driver lost it. The red mist came down. He started yelling out of his window at the taxi driver. The taxi driver yelled back. I tried to motion to our driver that it was not worth it, but he opened the door, swept past me and Naomi and was suddenly squaring up to the taxi driver, who had also left his vehicle. Naomi had been carrying the camcorder in her hand and I thought she might try to record the punch-up, but she thought better of it. If she’d been spotted there’s no telling how the driver might have reacted.

A random passer-by intervened and no blows actually landed, although the driver came very close. Eventually the driver calmed down and drove us back to the ship without further incident. Highlight of the day really.

China’s yellow sky

Posted in China, Far East Cruise 2007, General, Travel by Dennis Wright on July 15, 2007

It troubled me, when preparing photos for earlier blogposts about our Far East cruise, that I’d had to alter the colour balance to get the sky the “right” colour.

Take a look at the picture below which first appeared in my post dated 3 July about the Chinese city of Dalian which we visited in late April.

china dalian

This is how the picture looked before photoshopping.

Now I make no apology for using Photoshop on the pictures I present in my blog. It is perfectly legitimate to crop, resize, adjust for exposure errors, optimise contrast, maybe correct some verticals or sloping horizons. Manufacturers of digital SLRs pretty much expect you to do some post-processing (essentially you have to if you are using “raw” format) and the cameras are set up accordingly. More particularly, I am not “lying” or distorting anything, or at least not trying to. That is why it bothered me when I found the picture had a yellow cast, assumed it was spurious and used Photoshop to dial it out.

Was the sky really yellowish? Was it some quirk of the way the camera works or evidence of a polluted atmosphere? I wasn’t sure. I did not particularly recall the sky being obviously yellow when I was in Dalian, but then your eyes adjust quite rapidly if the effect is slight. I do not recall having trouble breathing or any odour suggestive of pollution. My nose is not the most sensitive but Naomi can detect a gas leak at three miles, and would normally have made some mention.

All the same, going back over the photos taken in China, groups of them, taken over a limited period in a particular place, display a yellowish tinge. Notably Dalian and the smog over the Huangpu River in the environs of Shanghai. The photos in that set originally had a strong brownish-yellowish cast, and even after correction in Photoshop the pictures still bear traces of a brown cast.

I don’t think the camera was lying. The Exif data recorded with each shot indicate the camera’s colour temperature was set to daylight mode. That suggests the yellow is real, not some artifact resulting from the combination of ambient lighting conditions and the camera’s settings. So my removal of the colour cast was probably wrong, distorting reality. Making Dalian’s sky look like the Med when it should have had a tell-tale yellow tinge.

China does come in for criticism about pollution of the atmosphere, particularly around the big industrial cities.

There is plenty on the Internet about China’s pollution problems, but I alighted on the snippet below from this post on the Eyes East blog:

“This morning, sitting on the plane, I saw the bluest sky I’ve ever laid eyes on. The clouds broke over the Indian Ocean at sunrise, and the pale dawn reached up toward indigo overhead. I forgot what a blue sky is supposed to look like, even in Dalian”

30 April 2007: A morning in Busan, or should that be Pusan?

Posted in Far East Cruise 2007, South Korea by Dennis Wright on July 11, 2007

South Korea Flag We only had a morning in Busan (pronounced “Pusan” or maybe the other way around). The Statendam docked round the back of some island or other and we had a 45 min bus journey to town. The dropping off point was the Phoenix hotel, conveniently situated for the shops which is where most of our fellow mariners decided to spend their time. I cannot understand how these people can think of nothing to do but shop at every port as if the globe were no more than a giant shopping mall.

Naomi and I headed off to the famous Jagalchi fish market by the waterfront.

Busan Jagalchi

Busan Jagalchi

You can have any size of whitebait.

Busan Jagalchi

Busan Jagalchi

I AM THE PINCERS! (Never mind – it’s a private joke and best kept that way, anyway this settles the argument.)

Busan Jagalchi I am the pincers

We left the noisy but colourful fish market, with its stalls and restaurants, and went behind it to the waterfront. There are whole families half hidden at the back of some of the fish-stalls, under canopies, spending all day mending nets.

The small fishing boats all seem to have sofas installed on the deck. Every one is a different style and colour. At last I know what happens to the vast stock of sofas advertised on TV by World of Leather et al. I couldn’t work out who on earth was buying so many sofas in the sales.

Busan Jagalchi

Busan Jagalchi

Busan Jagalchi

Dalian

Posted in China, Far East Cruise 2007, Video by Dennis Wright on July 3, 2007

Our last port of call in China was Dalian. I had never heard of it before we booked the trip but it has a population of over 6m.

Whereas with other cities there had been no shortage of obvious must-see sights, for Dalian we were less sure about how to make the most of our visit so decided to play it safe with an organised shore excursion.

This followed a Mariner’s Club cocktail party in the ship’s show lounge (the Van Gogh Lounge). It is just a promotional event for HAL’s loyalty scheme, rewarding elderly and wealthy people who have spent 10 years of their lives on board HAL ships with gold medallions and suchlike. The captain also announced there would be soon be a new ship to join the Statendam, Nordam, Oosterdam, Rotterdam, Ryndam, etc., etc., in the HAL fleet. It would be twice the size of any of the others, have 10 show lounges, 6 swimming pools and hit new heights of luxury. The woman next to us quipped “I guess they’ll call it the Expensivedam”.

Ha, ha. They won’t of course call it that but it will no doubt be “damn expensive”.

statendam van gogh lounge

Dalian’s city centre is modern and clean.

dalian city centre china

dalian city centre china

Part of the tour involved a visit to a local resident’s house, with an interpreter on hand so we could ask questions. It was a retired lady who appeared to live on her own. I guess her husband had died and the one son had gone to work in a different city. Naomi was sure the whole thing was staged for PR purposes but HAL claimed it was their idea, not the PRC’s. It may well have been genuine enough – the block of flats was not exactly luxurious.

dalian china

The woman had a small vestibule, one sitting room cum bedroom with a TV in it, a kitchen and a bathroom. It was all spotless and tidy. There was mains electricity and piped water, but no piped gas. The tiny kitchen seemed to rely on a calor-gas powered wok.

Around ten of us from the ship sat in the living room and were offered tea and fortune cookies. The discussion was hesitant – no-one seemed to know what to ask. I asked if things had improved in the last 10 years to which the answer via the interpreter was an enlightening “yes”. When I asked in what ways I did not get an answer at all. Maybe the flat is bugged and the woman was scared to say the wrong thing. Who knows? I bid the woman “Xie Xie” for her hospitality and departed with the others.

Note: the video below and all other videos in this post are high bitrate. Depending on your Internet connection speed, data transfer may not keep up with playback so the video may keep stopping and starting. If so, just pause playback until the data download has built up a big “head start” then start playback again.

We went to the local market next.

china dalian market

china dalian market

The ice for the fish market:

china dalian market

We were taken to lunch at a new and up-market city centre hotel. There was some entertainment by a troupe of Chinese children thrown in, and hosted by our tour guide who asked us to call him Joe. In the video clip below Joe apologises for the fact that our lunch does not include as many courses as the Chinese Dowager Empress Tzu-Hsi once enjoyed at a single meal. At the time, I didn’t know what he was going on about. It is only with the benefit of having recorded him, and the opportunity to do some Googling, that I now know who he was referring to.

High bitrate video, 1:52. Introduction and first item of children’s show:
High bitrate video , 3:09. Second item of children’s show:

Next up – the Dalian Women’s Mounted Police School.

dalian women mounted police

V

They were supposed to put on a display but there was a foul-up and our tour guide, Joe, called us out of the grandstand with the bad news. We were later refunded.

dalian china joe

Kite sellers in the city centre.

dalian city centre china

I really am running behind with the Far East part of my blog. I notice that when I was actually in Dalian I was blogging about Hong Kong, and even then conscious I was not keeping up. We’ve been back two months from our Asian cruise and in the meantime I’ve been to Berlin (via Holland) and to Venice (returning via Treviso, Marco Polo, Gatwick and Stansted, thanks to Ryanair cancelling the flight home).

The Changeling Tomb

Posted in China, Far East Cruise 2007, Video by Dennis Wright on June 19, 2007

It is commonly assumed that the game ping pong was invented in China. It actually started in England. Mind you, the Chinese may well have invented the pong bit, if the vile excuse for a toilet at the Changeling Tomb is anything to go by. Absolutely stomach turning.

The correct name of the place is Chang Ling (you don’t strictly need to add “tomb” because Ling means tomb). Naomi and I referred to it as the changeling tomb because it is hard to read Chang Ling without your brain “correcting” an apparent missing “e”.

Chang Ling is the tomb of 15th Century Ming Emperor Yongle who seems to have been a right busy person. His list of achievements includes establishing the Chinese capital at Beijing (it was previously Nanjing), being behind the building of the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven, a refortification of the Great Wall of China, and the Ming Tomb area itself including the Sacred Way. In fact, were it not for Yongle it would hardly have been worth going to the Beijing area at all.

Chang Ling is one of only three Ming Tombs to have been excavated to date. We did not visit the burial chamber itself as the treasures have been moved to an exhibition in the Hall of Eminent Favour, part of the Chang Ling complex the latter being built like a miniature version of the Forbidden City.

The Hall is supported on wooden pillars and there is a large bronze statue of Yongle in the centre.

China Chang Ling

There are a number of artifacts on display which were recovered from the tomb, including Yongle’s golden threaded crown and the Empress’s Phoenix crown …

China Chang Ling Yongle Gold Crown

China Chang Ling Empress Headdress

… and, it would seem, their ceremonial teapot. Just the thing for when the mother in law calls in for a quick cup of Oolong tea.

China Chang Ling

At the back of the complex is the Soul Tower which contains a stele.

China Chang Ling Soul Tower

China Chang Ling Soul Tower

Note: The video below is high bitrate. Playing time 1:21.

The Hall of Eminent Favour viewed from Soul Tower.

China Chang Ling

The Ming Tombs and the Sacred Way

Posted in China, Far East Cruise 2007, Video by Dennis Wright on June 18, 2007

The Sacred Way (Shen Dao), a wide avenue flanked by two rows of willow trees, was the ancient ceremonial pathway to the Ming Tombs where 13 of the 16 Ming Emperors are buried. The tombs themselves are loosely clustered in a rural area round 30 miles North West of Beijing.

To get to the Sacred Way from the car park you first have to run the gauntlet of a row of souvenir stalls staffed by screaming harpies. At the first sight of a coach party they strike up a deafening din as they try to persuade you to buy any amount of tomb related memorabilia.

If you make it past them you come to the ShenGong ShengDe Stele Pavilion, built in 1435.

Chang Ling Tomb Arch

Entering through the arch you find a 50 ton dragon-headed stone tortoise bearing a massive stone tablet. It looks like something out of a Terry Pratchett novel. Impressive but weird and bewildering.

Once past the big tortoise you are on to the Sacred Way itself. In addition to the willow trees there are statues of animals (mythical and otherwise) and, further along, court officials, soldiers, etc. The statues come in pairs of the same animal or creature, one standing guard to protect the Emperor’s tomb while the other is seated, resting. I would be fascinated to watch them swap shifts.

China Sacred Way Camel

Apparently just walking along and looking at the statues is not enough.

China Sacred Way

We had to cherish them. Naomi obliged.

China Sacred Way

China Sacred Way

To say the statues are around 500 years old they are in excellent condition. When 500 years old I reach, look as good I will not.

China Sacred Way

Around half way along the avenue was a gift shop. We took the opportunity to buy Esther a genuine Beijing Olympics T shirt, not having had the chance in Beijing the day before.

Note: The video below is high bitrate. Playing time 0:33.

As we came to the end of the Sacred Way our coach was waiting to take us to visit one of the tombs, but not before we had to endure another chorus of screeching harpies. The sound was so similar to the first auditory attack that it was easy to imagine those screaming women who staff the stalls had hitched a lift on our coach to get a second shot at us.

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